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  • 2009 Scion xB

    Evolved box

    By Nina Russin

    2009 Scion xB

    2009 Scion xB

    Since I began writing about cars twenty years ago, I’ve seen more automakers use Toyotas in their brand B comparisons than any other marque. The Toyota guys love it, since aspiration is the greatest form of flattery.

    The Scion xB crossover vehicle is a perfect example. As Kia, Nissan and other manufacturers introduce box-shaped crossovers, they inevitably compare those cars to the xB. Scion’s parent company is Toyota.

    Scion’s ace-in-the-hole is experience. Having learned some important lessons from the original model, the second-generation xB is a better fit for its intended audience.

    The first xB was a revised version of a Japan market car; the current model was designed specifically for American buyers. It’s larger and more substantial than the model it replaces, with a more powerful engine, and larger wheels that perform better on the highway. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Scion xB Gets Audio Upgrade

    2010 model features 160-watt Pioneer head unit with no price increase

    Scion xB

    Scion xB

    The Scion xB gets an audio upgrade for 2010: a 160-watt Pioneer head unit. Base MSRP remains the same: $15,750 for cars with the five-speed manual transmission, and $16,700 for the four-speed automatic. MSRP doesn’t include a $670 delivery charge.

    USB and auxiliary ports allow owners to plug in iPods or MP3 players, and listen to them through the xB’s six Pioneer speakers. Music is controlled through the head-unit and steering-wheel mounted audio controls.

    Scion is also offering a new Alpine premium unit that’s navigation and back-up camera ready. The 200-watt Alpine system includes a 4.3-inch thin film transfer screen, high-definition radio technology and a media expander. An available navigation unit uses the Alpine head unit for display. Navigation features include voice guidance, day and night screen modes, support in English, French and Spanish, and 200 available address book entries.

    Both the Pioneer and Alpine systems are prewired for satellite radio, and have MP3, AAC and WMA capability. Both units also feature speed-sensitive volume.

    All Scions come with standard power steering, windows and door locks, keyless entry, four-wheel antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags, and a tilt steering wheel. Monospec pricing eliminates haggling at the dealership.

    The 2010 models roll out later this month.

  • Scion Introduces iQ Concept in New York

    Micro-car appeals to active urbanites

    Scion iQ Concept

    Scion iQ Concept

    The recent fuel crisis has forced many Americans to rethink downsizing. The Scion iQ, a micro-subcompact car currently sold in Japan and Europe, might be ready to come ashore.

    A customized version on display at this week’s New York International Auto Show proves that small doesn’t mean dull. Five Axis of Huntington Beach, California transformed the iQ exterior with custom lighting, wheels and ground effects. The show car’s lime green paint could stop traffic in Times Square.

    But the real beauty for people with active lifestyles is its versatile interior. Despite its 6-1/2 foot wheelbase, the iQ has enough room inside for three adults and their luggage.

    Engineers made the most of the car’s small footprint by positioning a flat gas tank under the floor to reduce its rear overhang. A compact air conditioning unit located near the center of the front console saves room under the hood.

    The rear seats fold flat in a 50/50 pattern to extend the cargo floor. The rear seat cushion flips up to reveal a flat storage space beneath for stashing a thin laptop, or other electronic devices.

    With an overall width of 71.4-inches, the iQ is narrow enough to weave through traffic. Its overall length is just over 10 feet, so the iQ slips easily into parallel parking spots.

    The concept car’s eighteen-inch rims and LED headlamps appeal to the tuner crowd. A ten-inch multi-function display inside serves as the hub for the navigation system and entertainment console. The touch screen can also play movies when the car is parked.

    An eco lamp illuminates to indicate driver efficiency. Comfort and convenience features include dual-zone climate controls and a downloadable hard drive.

    The iQ comes with standard antilock brakes, vehicle stability control and nine airbags, including the first rear window curtain airbag.

    For a closer look at the iQ, visit Scion’s public web site.

  • 2008 Scion xB

    A Better Box

    By Nina Russin

    2008 Scion xB

    2008 Scion xB

    The xB was one of two cars that launched the Scion brand back in 2003, the other being the now-defunct xA. Based on a Japan market car called the “Black Box,” the funky xB won the hearts of buyers looking for an affordable alternative to sport-utility vehicles.

    Though it couldn’t match the off-road capability of four-wheel drive trucks, the xB held a surprising amount of cargo, with fuel economy rivaling passenger cars. Monospec pricing and a sub-$14,000 MSRP appealed to first-time car buyers who were wary of the dealership experience, and wanted to avoid long-term loan payments.

    This year, Scion rolls out an all-new xB with much-improved ride and handling, a more spacious passenger cabin and more room for cargo. Powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces fifty-five more horsepower than the original car, the new xB is a more substantial vehicle while retaining the funky charm of the original.

    In addition to the bigger engine, the new xB also has bigger wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, and more standard safety features, including antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags, and vehicle stability control with traction control. Fuel economy is still above average for a crossover-utility vehicle: about 25 miles-per-gallon.

    Scion has maintained its monospec, value pricing strategy. MSRP for the five-speed manual version is $15,650; $16,600 for the four-speed automatic. The base car includes many comfort and convenience features car buyers look for: remote keyless entry, air conditioning, a Pioneer, iPod compatible audio system, tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls and power side mirrors. Buyers can customize their xBs with a few factory options including premium audio and navigation systems, or choose from a myriad of aftermarket products.

    The test car has four options: a rear spoiler ($423), navigation system ($2010), floor mats ($144) and a security package ($423). Total cost, including a $580 delivery charge is $19,287.

    Love it or hate it styling

    I must confess that my reaction to the xB’s styling is that it’s a face only a mother could love. Then again, I’m about twice the age of the target buyer. In its favor, nobody can accuse the xB of having a bland exterior.

    Though it maintains the basic box shape of the original model, designers added styling touches that meld the xB with the larger family of Toyota vehicles. A thick, angular rear pillar and roof spoiler are similar to elements on the current Toyota Highlander, while wrap-around headlamps mimic the current Corolla. The profile is more aerodynamic than the first xB, and larger wheels seem more proportionate to the body.

    Two vertical taillamps serve as focal points in back. A single backup lamp in the left corner balances off the tailpipe to the right. Though it makes sense on the drawing board, it looks a bit odd on the actual car.

    A standard rear wiper keeps the glass clean in rain and snow. Designers thoughtfully put the VIN number on the inside of the liftgate rather than the base of the windshield: it’s easy for the car owner to find, but not so for would-be thieves.

    Urban interior

    Inside, the styling is stark and urban: a Scion trademark. A four-gauge cluster on top of the center stack displays time, ambient temperature, fuel economy, and average speed. The navigation screen on the test car also displays audio settings. The screen flips up for loading in compact discs. The shift lever is located to the right of the steering wheel rather than in the floor console, leaving more room for storage.

    Dark charcoal upholstery is attractive and practical: it doesn’t get as hot as leather, and it doesn’t show dirt. Though the seats lack lumbar adjustments, I found both front and rear seats to have adequate lower back support.

    There are plenty of bins and cubbies around the front seats for holding small electronic devices, sunglasses, and paperwork. Two cupholders in the floor console are big enough for water bottles in the endurance athlete world. The center console bin is deep enough to hold compact discs. iPod and MP3 jacks plug into the front of the bin, while two pop-out cupholders for second-row passengers are stowed in back.

    The glovebox is larger than average, with room to hold maps and paperwork. There is also a storage shelf above the glovebox. All four doors have large bottle holders and the front doors also have map pockets.

    The car’s narrow greenhouse makes for a dark interior, especially without a moonroof. This is especially noticeable in the second row. On the upside, second row passengers have an abundance of head and shoulder room. Since the front-wheel drive xB has no transmission tunnel through the floor, it’s possible to seat three adults across the back. Legroom is adequate for small to medium-sized passenger: taller men may find the rear seats cramped.

    Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor: a button to the outside of the seatbacks releases them. The xB meets our bicycle friendly standards. There are four tie-down loops on the cargo floor. An under-floor storage area has four bins that conceal valuables from prying eyes.

    Both front seats fully recline, reminding me of my favorite feature in my ’66 Rambler. It’s too bad drive-in movie theaters have gone the way of the carburetor.

    Ready for the open road

    The problem with bringing Japan market cars to America is that nobody in Japan drives very fast. Roads in Japan are much narrower than here in the States, and traffic in Tokyo makes Manhattan look like a farm field by comparison.

    Since the first xB was modeled after a Japan market car, it lacked the high-speed stability that American drivers need. Fifteen-inch wheels worked fine on surface streets, but they made the car feel wobbly on the interstate.

    The new xB was built for American roads, and it shows. The new engine has plenty of power to keep up with traffic, and enough on the low end to make entrance ramps a non-issue. I would recommend the five-speed manual for those willing to live with a clutch: it gives the driver better control over the engine’s power, as well as having a big overdrive gear to maximize fuel economy when power demands are low. The gearbox is easy to shift, and the clutch is light enough for use on the streets.

    Sixteen-inch wheels are a significant improvement over the smaller wheels on the outgoing model. Having maneuvered through some dense freeway traffic in Phoenix’s east valley, I can say confidently that the car is capable of commuting through typical urban traffic.

    Four-wheel disc brakes make the car stop in a straight line on wet or snowy roads; they are also easier to service than drums. An electric steering pump under the hood reduces weight and provides good response at all speeds.

    Visibility around the car is pretty good. The side mirrors compensate for the blind spots created by the D pillars; the biggest problem is knowing where the rear wheels are when backing into a parking spot.

    Although the new car is longer and wider than the outgoing model, the xB remains a small vehicle. The xB is about fourteen feet long and five feet wide: it will fit into any parking space. Despite the tall cargo area, overall height is just over five feet: the xB will clear parking garage  ceilings and garage doors with ease. On the downside, five inches of ground clearance doesn’t leave much margin on unimproved dirt roads.

    All cars come with a three year/36,000 mile warranty, that includes complimentary scheduled service at 5,000 and 10,000 miles. The 2008 xB is currently on display a Scion dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: A practical crossover utility vehicle with above-average fuel economy and a spacious, versatile cargo area.

    Dislikes: Thick D pillars obstruct visibility to the rear. The xB’s low ground clearance limits its use on unimproved dirt roads.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Scion
    Model: xB
    Base price: $15,650
    As tested: $19,287
    Horsepower: 158 Hp @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 162 lbs.-ft @ 4000 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: Standard
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 22/28 mpg city/highway
    Comments: Base price does not include a $580 delivery charge.

  • 2008 Scion xD

    Scion’s newest hatchback is a super value at the gas pump.
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Scion xD

    2008 Scion xD

    Bad news at the gas pump is good news for Scion. Toyota’s youth-oriented brand specializes in small, fuel efficient cars with edgy, urban styling. Now that the xA is out of production, the xD is the smallest Scion.

    Scion makes the buying process simple with monospec pricing. The buyer chooses the transmission, color, and orders the car from a kiosk at the dealership. Dealers don’t keep a lot of inventory on the lot, but have access to a large inventory of cars, which can be delivered in a timely manner from various storage facilities.

    Base price on the xD is $14,550. The subcompact hatchback meets all of our ALV safety requirements: antilock brakes, side curtain airbags and a first aid kit are standard equipment. The simple interior includes most of the comfort and convenience features buyers look for: cruise control, air conditioning, an iPod compatible audio system, remote keyless entry, and a tilt steering wheel with redundant audio controls.

    Buyers can add a few factory-installed options, including a navigation system ($1950), satellite radio ($449), and vehicle stability control ($650). I’d recommend the vehicle stability control for anyone who travels along wet or icy roads: it controls wheel spin-out and excessive yaw to help the driver maintain directional control.

    Average fuel economy for the xD with a five-speed manual transmission is thirty miles-per-gallon. Engineers maximized power from the 1.8-liter engine by keeping weight off the chassis. Curb weight is 2625 pounds: slightly more for the automatic. Buyers willing to push a clutch are rewarded with better gas mileage and better power.

    The advantages of a small footprint

    Its compact size makes the xD an excellent choice for city dwellers, who will appreciate the maneuverability on crowded streets and highways. The xD’s turning radius is 37 feet, allowing it to make the occasional U-turn with ease. The xD can slip in between two large trucks into a slightly undersized parking spot.

    Though it’s no race car, the xD’s power and performance should satisfy the needs of most drivers. I found the car to have ample acceleration in the twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range, critical for merging into highway traffic. Cruising at speeds of seventy to seventy-five miles-per-hour, which is average for highways in and around Phoenix, is not a problem.

    The xD rides on standard sixteen-inch wheels, giving the car a stable footprint. Steel wheels with wheel covers are standard. Buyers can upgrade to factory alloy wheels ($795), and add wheel locks ($65) to protect the wheels from would-be thieves.

    The MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension provides a fairly supple ride. A standard front stabilizer bar keeps the car flat while cornering. An electric steering pump reduces weight under the hood, and provides good response at all speeds.

    Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good. The side view mirrors compensate adequately for blind spots to the rear when driving, but thick rear pillars make parallel parking more difficult. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clean in rain and snow.

    Functional interior

    On the whole, the xD interior meets the needs of  buyers in its target market. There are three cupholders in the center and floor console, one of which is large enough for a water bottle. Map pockets in the front doors are designed to fit bottles as well, but they were too narrow to hold any of the water bottles I tried in them.

    Designers simplified the gauge cluster by combining the speedometer and tachometer in one gauge: it takes some getting used to, but is fairly easy to read. A digital fuel readout displays the fuel level in the car’s eleven-gallon tank. A larger tank would have given the xD better range, but it would also add to the car’s curb weight.

    Toyota is known for making quiet cars, which makes the xD’s noisy interior surprising. Road noise is obvious at all speeds, and is loud enough to interfere with the audio system.

    The standard audio system includes an AM/FM radio, CD player, MP3 and iPod plug-ins.
    a 12-volt power point at the base of the center stack recharges electronic devices and a small shelf next to the plug in is the perfect size for holding cell phones or PDAs.

    Heating and air conditioning controls on the center stack are easy to reach from both front seating positions. Cooling the car’s black interior down in Phoenix summer weather was a good test of the air conditioning system, which it passed with ease.

    The xD has no center console bin: designers substituted a two-piece glovebox in its place. While the top bin is large enough for compact disks, maps and paperwork, it is too small to hold a purse or small pack. Three small bins beneath the cargo floor are large enough to conceal valuables at the trailhead.

    The back seats have plenty of hip and legroom for two adults, though taller passengers may find headroom lacking. The second-row seats fold flat to give the xD a large functional cargo space that meets our bicycle-friendly standards. I was able to load in four large cartons of running shoes and still see out the back window. Luggage and camping gear should not be a problem.

    Though it won’t meet the needs of all athletes, the xD is as well suited to active lifestyles as any car of its size could be. In a time of shrinking budgets and burgeoning fuel prices the xD is a practical, affordable alternative for athletes who need a versatile cargo area, but can’t afford the expense or upkeep of a larger sport-utility vehicle.

    The xD is currently on display at Scion dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: An affordable subcompact car with exceptional fuel economy and a configurable cargo area that meets our bicycle friendly standards. The xD has a high level of standard safety, including antilock brakes, side curtain airbags and a first aid kit.

    Dislikes: All but one of the cupholders are too small for water bottles. Visibility to the rear is restricted due to extremely wide D pillars.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Scion
    Model: xD
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $14,550
    As tested: $16,444
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: Standard
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 27/33 mpg city/highway
    Comments: MSRP does not include a $620 delivery charge.